Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CINDER EDNA by Ellen Jackson...Still delighting readers after 20 years

In 1994, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard published Ellen Jackson's CINDER EDNA, a fun, twisty take on the traditional Cinderella story. Twenty years later, The Washington Post revisited CINDER EDNA to find out why kids and their caregivers are still reading and loving this tale. (It's still in print!)

Ellen has stopped by today to discuss the book and her writing. Thanks for coming, Ellen! Can you believe it's been 20 years since CINDER EDNA was published? 

How did you decide to write this story in the first place?

Even as a little girl I was bothered by the Cinderella story (even though it was probably my favorite fairy tale). For example, I could never understand why the prince didn’t recognize Cinderella when he came to her house with the glass slipper. He’d been dancing with her all night, and presumably looking at her. And why “glass” slippers? That didn’t seem like the best choice of material for a pair of shoes. My first thought was to write a humorous story that would explain all those little discrepancies. But then it occurred to me that Cinderella wasn’t much of a role model either. Why not have my Cinderella be spunkier and more of a go-getter?

Did the writing come quickly, or did you have to work to get it just right?

The general plot came fairly quickly, but I struggled to get the details just right. For example, at the end there’s a description of the Cinderella’s life as a queen and daily routine. I wanted to make it funny, and I rewrote it several times. And the same was true at the beginning of the book where I tell about Cinder Edna’s chores. The details had to be funny, but appropriate and not too distracting.

Was there a message behind the story that you wanted to convey to kids?

I don’t really try to send a message when I write. My primary goal is to entertain and make children (and, hopefully, their parents) laugh. The “message” or theme usually creeps in somewhere along the way, but it’s often just a part of how I look at the world. In the case of CINDER EDNA, I was aware that Cinderella had led me astray as a child. It instilled in me the idea that I needed to look for a prince–someone who would sweep me off my feet and provide for all my needs. And I’d better grow up to be beautiful to attract that prince.

That was just my childish take on the story. Don’t misunderstand, I love fairy tales and I think that most can be interpreted in more than one way, especially Cinderella. But I’m not beautiful and I’ve learned that it’s more satisfying to improve your own life rather than expect a fairy godmother to do it for you. All this was in the back of my mind when I wrote the story, but I wasn’t really planning it all out consciously.

After you finished writing the story, how long did it take to sell it?

It took awhile—probably at least two years. It was rejected 40 times before the 41st publisher acquired it. Some editors thought it should be a “magazine piece.” Others thought fractured fairy tales were a dying genre. There were a lot of different reasons why it was rejected.

Tell us about the illustrator, Kevin O'Malley. Had you worked with him before or since?

I’d never worked with Kevin before, nor have I worked with him since. At the time, he was very much an up and coming illustrator at Lothrop, Lee and Shepard.  Kevin and I did sign books together at ALA when CINDER EDNA first came out, so I got to meet him. I thought he was absolutely delightful. He’s a wonderful performer and very funny.

CINDER EDNA is still going strong as a book. Hasn't it been performed on stage, too?

Yes, CINDER EDNA has been made into a short film, performed as a play by several different theater companies, and made into a musical three or four times. My agent has sold foreign rights to Germany, Korea, and several other countries.

That's amazing! I'm thrilled for you that this wonderful story--one of my personal favorites--has touched so many lives. Thanks a bunch for telling us about it, Ellen. And continued success with your writing!

Readers, you can visit Ellen at



  1. Has it really been 20 years? A writing friend and I were just looking at Cinder Edna at our local bookstore this summer. She's writing a ;Cinderella with a twist' book and was looking for mentor texts. Congrats on it's 20 year anniversary!

  2. I can't imagine a better mentor text for your friend, Rachel!

  3. Hi, Ellen and Jody,

    Great interview! As a retired children's librarian, I still always interested in books that have made it last over the years. Cinderella being such a popular children's story, it naturally lends itself to new versions. I believe the story has many international versions.

  4. Jacqueline, Staying power is the mark of a great book. I'm betting CINDER EDNA has many more years in her.

  5. Wow, lucky #41! :)

    Great interview! Thanks, Jody and Ellen!

  6. Some books, like Cinder Edna, are keepers. I'm not giving my copy away!

  7. What a terrific interview! Rejected 40 times before it was accepted by the 41st publishing house - a great lesson in perseverance and look what a wonderful long life Ellen's book has had! Thanks for sharing your insights, Ellen, and for your terrific interviewing, Jody!

  8. Thanks, Laura. It's a good lesson in listening to your gut. If you believe you've written something worth being published, don't stop pursuing it.